NEW YORK -- It's the airport with the most delays in the nation.
How many? Try 10,226 planes that were late taking off from or landing at New York's La Guardia field during October. One day, 600 aircraft couldn't arrive or depart on time.
And angry passengers are stacked up like planes waiting for a thunderstorm to pass.
"We are just held hostage," said Terry O'Brien, who last weekend stood -- along with his wife, Elizabeth, and their friends -- in front of a screen full of red letters signaling canceled or late flights.
They were trying to return to Portland, Maine, after a weekend getaway in Manhattan. The plane was supposed to leave at 2:30 p.m. That flight was eliminated because the runway was too crowded. They were booked on the 7:30 flight, but its departure was pushed back until 8:15 p.m.
Nearby, Gunter Damian -- a vice president of an animal health company -- was typing on his laptop. He had been stuck in Kansas City, Mo., for 12 hours because his flight didn't have clearance to take off for congested La Guardia.
"It seems every time I travel to La Guardia, the plane is late," Damian complained.
The Federal Aviation Administration has labeled the situation "intolerable."
So the agency held a lottery Monday to reduce the number of flights using La Guardia -- which accounts for almost one-quarter all U.S. delays.
The lottery is a stop-gap measure until the FAA can come up with a solution to the problem created by a law designed to provide service to smaller cities: Too many airlines signed up for slots at La Guardia.
There are just too many planes waiting to takeoff and land. Flight controllers can handle about seven aircraft operations every five minutes without compromising safety. These days, 22 planes are trying to squeeze into that time slot.
"The snowball effect occurs the entire day," said one FAA traffic expert who asked not to be named. "Even if you have your very best day, you are still going to run a couple of hundred delays because of volume."
The effects of La Guardia delays can ripple across the country. Confronted with congestion at La Guardia, flight controllers routinely order planes to remain on the ground at other airports so problems won't worsen.
"Some flights at La Guardia have experienced average ground delay time that exceeds scheduled flight time," the FAA noted in papers announcing the lottery.
Results of the lottery designed to reduce air traffic by 20 percent won't become effective until January -- too late for the Christmas travel season.
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